Welcome to the (eco)friendliest village in the country
One of the last vibrant building sites in Ireland is breathing life into its area, writes John Meagher
Green grass of home: The Eco Village in Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary (top); residents Joe Fitzmaurice and Julie Lockett (above left); Pa Finucane is hoping to open an eco-hostel soon; and Peter and Sarah Baker, owners of Cloughjordan House. Photos by James Flynn
Ireland's most environmentally friendly village. . .
Reams of scaffolding, dozens of builders in fluorescent bibs, the persistent din of construction. It reads like a memory of those heady Celtic Tiger days when house-building seemed to be our national hobby.
And for the country as a whole, building work on such a large scale is a thing of the past -- a relic of a different age.
But there is one part of Ireland where residential construction is enjoying a boom. Welcome to Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary.
On the face of it, Cloughjordan is just another midlands village. There's a long main street, an elegant Protestant church surrounded by a green park and a GAA pitch just up the road.
But anyone who spends even a short time here will soon realise that Cloughjordan is a very different animal to its neighbours.
Not many villages of its size -- roughly 700 people -- have a thriving cinema club, a walking group, regular yoga classes or a food festival featuring Michelin-starred chefs from France.
Look though the list of activities on offer on the village website www.cloughjordan.ie and you would be forgiven for thinking it had taken its cue from one of Dublin's wealthy, liberal enclaves -- Sandymount or Monkstown. Looking for a poetry workshop or a social night as Gaelige? Cloughjordan can accommodate those needs.
But what really makes Cloughjordan different to anywhere else in the country is the so-called Eco Village that is being built on a 67-acre site just off Main Street.
Launched by Sustainable Projects Ireland in March 2007 -- just before the recession hit -- this pioneering development attracted much attention at the time but the economic slow-down stymied its growth initially.
Yet, quietly and below the radar, the Eco Village has already become a reality. Several large, attractive houses have been built, families have moved in and a 36-bed eco-hostel is nearing completion.
Phase two -- featuring a solar energy facility -- was launched earlier this month and, according to Dave Flannery, the sales manager of the Village, the area is home to one of the largest active construction sites in the country.
Visit the area any week day and you can see how much work is going on. From the vantage point of an upstairs window at the Sustainable Projects Ireland office on Main Street, you can really get a sense of the size of the project.
But the Eco Village is a far cry from all the housing estates that were flung up at break-neck speed in the boom years. This one has been meticulously thought out. Every house -- remarkably different from each other in design -- is built to stringent sustainable energy rules.
In all, there is planning permission for 114 low-energy houses, plus 16 "live-work" units. Fibre-optic technology brings super-fast internet to the community. A significant portion of the site has been devoted to an organic vegetable allotment -- food is already being grown there. Heat is provided by the aforementioned solar panels and augmented by a wood-chip burning system.
Although Cloughjordan is a little off the beaten track -- roughly 10km from the recently opened M7 Dublin-Limerick motorway -- it is served by a railway station (there are two trains a day to Dublin) and a car-sharing scheme is in place. Pretty river-side paths have been accentuated and rolling fields and woodland are easily accessible by foot.
"We're really loving it down here," says Joe Fitzmaurice, a baker from Dublin, who moved with his family into a large house in the Village in February.
'We had been living in Stoneybatter [an area with one of the highest population densities in the city], which we liked, but this offers a more relaxed, peaceful way of life.
"We're passionate about living a sustainable, energy-efficient lifestyle and it's lovely to live in a community of like-minded people."
Joe's wife, Julie, is similarly enthused about the family's move to Tipperary. "It's the kind of life that really suits those who are community-minded. It's in everyone's interest to make this Village work as well as possible."
The couple are currently in the process of building an energy-efficient oven right beside the house.
"It should be ready by September," Joe says, "and we reckon we'll be able to bake 1,000 organic loaves a week. We'll supply the local community and our Blazing Salads business in Dublin."
Pa Finucane has even more ambitious plans for the Village. He is close to completing work on one of the country's first eco-hostels to be named after his dog, Django. "I had worked in Dublin city centre [managing a pharmacy on Talbot Street] for a long time and became really bored with the daily commute.
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"I reached the point a few years ago where I thought it was time to try something completely different and I always liked the idea of opening a hostel. When I heard about the Eco Village I was hooked, even though it didn't meet my criteria of finding somewhere to live by the sea. It's about as far from the sea as you can get in this country."
Dara and Rachel Sheehan have also moved into the Village in recent months. Dara grew up in Thurles; Rachel is from Dublin. "We had lived in Limerick before this, but really warmed to the idea of building a sustainable energy house," she says. "I didn't want to live in the middle of the country, in isolation. I like the idea of a community and there are lots of amenities here that you would find in a city context.
"I think it's a great environment to bring children up in," Dara adds. "It's rural life, but it's different to the norm. This feels like a progressive project and there's a really interesting mix of people here. Many of them have travelled and have had broad experiences. And I think it's good that this has been built right next to Cloughjordan village. It doesn't feel like it exists in isolation."
Dave Flannery, whose own house in the Village is nearing completion, believes it was imperative that the project be built in the heart of Cloughjordan. "We don't want to stand removed from the existing community," the Dubliner says.
"The people of Cloughjordan have been very supportive of us from day one and that's been important. Not only is the Village helping local employment but as the population grows it will help local businesses, schools and clubs to thrive."
There are two primary schools in the village, bluntly titled No 1 (Protestant) and No 2 (Catholic). There's long been a vibrant Church of Ireland community in the area and the current rector, Stephen Neill, came to national prominence four years ago when he discovered Barack Obama's Irish descendant, Fulmouth Kearney, had lived in nearby Moneygall.
Cloughjordan is also celebrated in GAA circles for its hurling prowess. The club, Kilruane McDonaghs -- named after one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising, local Thomas McDonagh -- supplied two members of last year's All-Ireland winning Tipperary team.
And, if Sarah Baker's ambitions come to fruition, the village will also become celebrated among food lovers. Sarah and her husband Peter own Cloughjordan House, the magnificent mansion in the heart of the village and the pair have created the inaugural Totally Tipperary food festival which will take place on their front lawn on June 25.
"The idea is to celebrate the great food that is produced in this county," Sarah, who runs a cookery school, says. "We're bringing over Michelin-starred chefs from France to cook meals using Tipperary produce and we'll have food bloggers cooking as well as demonstration tents aimed at children."
The Bakers are enthused with the progress of the Eco Village to date. In fact it was they who sold the land on which the site now stands.
"It is breathing new life into Cloughjordan," Peter says. "The village had been dying a death. This project will hopefully secure its future."